It’s almost time to celebrate: what you need to know for the 2020 Renaissance Awards

By: Robin Rectenwald

It’s hard to believe that 2020 is already here, especially since we’ve been planning the PRSA Pittsburgh Renaissance Awards since February 2019.

With less than 30 days to go until our biggest event of the year, I can’t express how excited I am for this year’s awards. January 30th will be a special night where nearly 200 local communications and marketing professionals will celebrate their achievements. We had nearly 30 companies submit more than 100 entries, the most PRSA Pittsburgh has had in years. We are grateful for your support and enthusiasm for our event and we can’t wait to showcase your hard work in just a few weeks.

Joining us will be John Chamberlin and Rachael Rennebeck, hosts of the humorous YaJagoff Podcast, to serve as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening. Don’t worry, they won’t poke too much fun at us. In fact, John has been a long-time supporter of PRSA, so we’re excited to be working with the rising duo.

As you gear up for the night of celebration, here’s what you need to know regarding this year’s event.


Because the networking portion will take place in the lobby of the Pittsburgh Playhouse, we have a limited number of tickets. Please be sure to purchase your tickets early as we anticipate selling out. We ask that you purchase your tickets no later than Friday, January 24.

Tickets are available here.

We won’t have tables available for purchase since the awards ceremony will take place in a traditional theater, but we do have ticket bundles available.


If you haven’t been to the Pittsburgh Playhouse, here’s your chance! It’s a magnificent performing arts center located in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. What better place to showcase the most creative marketing campaigns?

Be sure not to confuse the Pittsburgh Playhouse with its old location in Oakland. This year’s Renaissance Awards will take place at the new Playhouse located at 350 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.


Street parking is free after 6 p.m. or there are plenty of spots available in the Market Square Garage (228 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222), less than two blocks away from the Playhouse.


With so many smart and creative minds in one room, we hope to leave plenty of room for networking before and after the awards ceremony. Because we have a lot of awards to hand out, we hope to start the ceremony at 6:30 p.m. sharp. Be sure to arrive early if you want to grab something to eat and drink in advance. Here’s the tentative schedule of events for the evening:

  • 5:00 p.m.: Doors open at Pittsburgh Playhouse (350 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222)
  • 5:00 – 6:30 p.m.: Networking, drinks and hors d’oeuvres
  • 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.: Renaissance Awards ceremony (no food or drink in theater)
  • 9:00 – 10:00 p.m.: Networking, coffee and dessert
  • 10:00 p.m.: After Party at Forbes Tavern (310 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222)

WHAT’S ON THE MENU (we promise, it’s delicious)

Thanks to the staff at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, we’re excited for this year’s menu, which includes vegetarian and gluten free options:

  • Carving Station
  • Pasta Station
  • Cheese and fruit place
  • Hot Hors d’Oeuvres
  • Cold Hors d’Oeuvres
  • Gourmet coffee and desserts
  • Wine and beer bar (each ticket holder gets two free drinks)


Reward your hard work and Renaissance wins with a cocktail (or two). Join us at Forbes Tavern to continue the celebration!

Our After Party is sponsored by StudioME, a user-friendly space for media creation in Pittsburgh. From first-timers to professionals, StudioME offers user-friendly studio spaces, equipment rentals, editing workstations, and custom production services for all media creators. The StudioME model was created with the challenge to deliver high quality content using brand new approaches to an outdated, over-priced model.

We’ll be sure to share any other event updates as they come in. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly at

See you on January 30th!

A New Decade, A New Board of Directors

Under the strong, committed leadership of president Ben Butler, 2019 was a fantastic year for PRSA Pittsburgh, with tons of new faces, engaging programming and professional learning experiences ready to be channelled in the new year. PRSA Pittsburgh is thrilled to announce the official 2020 Board of Directors!

“I take a look at the goals we set out to achieve in 2019 and I’m thrilled because we’ve accomplished all of them,” says Ben Butler, APR, 2019 PRSA Pittsburgh President. “The 2019 board was one of the most cohesive, motivated, and fun groups I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Thanks to their efforts, we’re heading into 2020 with momentum, great leadership, and another rockstar board.”

The 2020 Board boasts an exciting mix of PRSA Pittsburgh veterans along with eager young professionals. This balance promises to foster new ideas and perspectives while having the experience necessary to carry them successfully to fruition.

Proposed and finalized by the PRSA Pittsburgh Nominating Committee, we welcome:

  • President | Jordan Mitrik, Brunner
  • Vice President | Dan Ayer, Field General
  • Secretary | Robin Rectenwald, WordWrite
  • Treasurer | Darcey Mamone, NAMI 
  • Assistant Treasurer | Brian Ackermann, Red Havas           
  • Immediate Past President | Ben Butler, APR, Top Hat

  • Communications Chair | Ashley Jones, Beyond Spots & Dots
  • Social Media Co-Chair | Taylor Fife, Manchester Bidwell Corporation
  • Social Media Co-Chair | Megha Pai, WordWrite
  • Web Content Manager | Stacey Federoff, Point Park University
  • Multimedia Lead | Alex Grubbs, Point Park University
  • Multimedia Committee Member | Nick Jones, Point Park University
  • Website Lead | Ben Butler, APR, Top Hat
  • Member Services Chair | Kariann Mano, Red Havas
  • Programming Co-Chair | Jesse Serra, rue21
  • Programming Co-Chair | Mallory Manz, Carlow University
  • Renaissance Awards Co-Chair | Alex Oltmanns, Pipitone Group
  • Renaissance Awards Co-Chair | Morgan McCoy, Touchtown
  • PR Summit Co-Chair | Nathan Petrillo, NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania
  • PR Summit Co-Chair | Lily Whorl, Red Havas
  • Young Professionals Co-Chair | Deanna Tomaselli, Red Havas
  • Young Professionals Co-Chair | Catherine Clements, Red Havas
  • Accreditation Lead | Ben Butler, APR, Top Hat
  • Public Service Lead | Kristen Wishon, Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council
  • Student Liaison | Camille Downing, Point Park University
  • Sponsorship Lead | Steve Radick, BCW Global

A Message from the 2020 President

“For PRSA Pittsburgh, 2019 was filled with high-energy events and engaging members. As we turn the page to 2020, I look forward to continuing the legacy set forth by previous Chapter leaders while creating new opportunities for our members with my fellow board of directors,” said Jordan Mitrik, 2020 PRSA Pittsburgh President. “There has never been a more exciting time to be a communications professional, and we are committed to creating a community in Pittsburgh you feel proud to be a part of. Cheers to a new board, a new year and a new decade!”

Diversity Chair Position Still Open!

It’s not too late to join the 2020 Board! We’re still looking to fill our revived Diversity Chair position. We welcome fresh ideas for fulfilling the role and anticipate that the Diversity Chair will be highly involved across every aspect of PRSA Pittsburgh communications, events and member relations. Communications and PR professionals of all identities and seniority levels are encouraged to inquire or apply at!


We look forward to an exciting year of propelling Pittsburgh PR forward!

Peloton Ad Still Has Everyone’s Heads Spinning

“A Peloton?!”

Little did Peloton know that the ad that began with this simple exclamation would spark a global controversy. By now you’ve either seen or at least heard about Peloton’s recent holiday blunder. The 30-second commercial titled, “The Gift That Gives Back,” has stirred both controversy and mockery among audiences. From comedic spoofs and outrage over perceived sexist and classist undertones to the company’s stocks falling, the spot has generated conversation and results that the Peloton brand didn’t anticipate.

“We constantly hear from our members how their lives have been meaningfully and positively impacted after purchasing or being gifted a Peloton Bike or Tread, often in ways that surprise them,” a Peloton representative said in a statement Wednesday.

“Our holiday spot was created to celebrate that fitness and wellness journey,” the statement said. “While we’re disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial, we are encouraged by — and grateful for — the outpouring of support we’ve received from those who understand what we were trying to communicate.” – The New York Times

Peloton’s efforts to convey a relatable fitness journey, while admirable and surely made with the best intentions, missed the mark. But what was it about this ad specifically that struck such a cord? There was the backlash regarding the husband’s demeanor, the camera angles, the facial expressions of the “Peloton Wife.” But it was more than that. The ad didn’t feel genuine, it didn’t evoke inspiration or pathos. It was…well, awkward.

Here are some thoughts from Deanna Tomaselli and Ashley Jones:

What did you think about the ad?

D.T.: When I first saw it while watching TV before all the uproar, I thought they missed the mark and it was corny. Especially compared to last year’s holiday ad where the husband buys the bike for his wife and secretly uses it for himself (there’s one where the wife buys for the husband, too.) Clever! Then I saw the online reactions and just laughed. Do I think it’s sexist? I wouldn’t go that far; I would say it’s simply a bad ad.

A.J.: I saw the ad before seeing any of the online commentary and opinions, and my immediate response was “Oh man, this makes me cringe.” And I wasn’t cringing because I was offended in any way, the ad was honestly just laughable to me. I didn’t think it would receive this kind of negative attention, particularly surrounding sexism. The claims about the husband being abusive are a stretch. It simply lacked a powerful, resonating message.

What would you have done differently?

D.T.: If they want to follow her journey, I would have changed it to her buying it herself. That changes the dynamic. It’s her choice and her journey.

A.J.: I think if they wanted to stick with a “gift giving” theme it would have been more powerful to have a story behind WHY she wanted one. Did she have a health scare that warrants the need for more exercise? Is she fulfilling a lifelong dream to run a marathon and this will help with training? Does she have a beloved friend or sibling who she used to exercise with that now lives far away, but the bike enables them to work out together again? Some kind of storyline would have at least helped us as an audience root for her and detract a lot of this “sexism” talk.

What do you think makes this ad resonate so awkwardly with audiences?

D.T.: Peloton ads have always been kind of a joke (just take these memes). This one though, she just looks terrified. It’s a home workout for crying out loud! No one will see you. Plus, the way she is Instagram storying (so it looks like) is just weird.

What’s important to recognize, is that Peloton is an aspirational brand. The bikes and treads are certainly not cheap, so clearly, they are trying to reach a target demo, which I think always comes across in their messaging and advertising. I think people took this TOO far and should have kept it more fun, like the memes above. I also liked Peloton’s response since I would have been disappointed as well. All in all, I think people are making too big of a deal about this, but Peloton should get called out because the ad is bad. But, I would still like a bike. 😊

A.J.: I think it was how overly dramatic the entire commercial was. It was difficult to feel inspired by an already in-shape woman talking about her (for some reason?) scary, at-home journey to…being more in shape? On her incredibly expensive stationary bike? The actress’s facial expressions were distracting and the script was just so over-the-top. I’m not bashing the fact that this woman is healthy and wants to push herself to be the best, but it’s just not hitting home the message I think Peloton wanted to.

Don’t get me wrong, I love an ad that causes a stir because interesting conversation and perspectives ensue. The response to this was reminiscent to me of the polarizing effects of Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” ad. However, Gillette’s ad had purpose, a timely and powerful message. This just lacked authenticity.

Tell us – what were your thoughts on the ad?


Thanks to our 2019 PRSA Holiday Party sponsors!

For 2020 Planning, Be a G.R.I.N.C.H.

Originally published in MediaPost

By: Jordan Mitrik


Everyone has heard “Don’t be a Grinch!”

That’s a phrase that resurfaces every year — plastered on ugly Christmas sweaters and holiday party invites — referencing the iconic yet mean-spirited titular character in Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

If someone calls you a Grinch, they’re insinuating you’re a grump or killjoy. No one wants to be a Grinch.

But a G.R.I.N.C.H. is an entirely different matter.

As you build strategic 2020 recommendations for your brand (or brands), use this time of year to assess the current landscape and how you — as a digital marketer — can enhance the overall experience for customers at every touchpoint.

Here’s how.

[G]et a grip on data analytics.

Everything we do is driven by data, which is able to deliver valuable insights that can inform planning, the user experience and more. Make 2020 the year you collect, manage and better analyze data to help understand customers’ behaviors and adjust your approach based on that insight. If you commit to supporting data analytics in marketing, you’ll make better optimizations and recommendations that should increase profits.

[R]efine content through audience messaging tests.

Running an A/B test lets you compare two versions of content with different variables (such as copy or design) that are shown to users to ultimately determine what performs best based upon campaign objectives. If you’re unsure if a “Buy Now” or an “Add to Cart” CTA will deliver a higher click-through rate, test it before the campaign formally launches.

A/B testing allows dollars to be used more efficiently and let you get to know your audience better.

[I]ncorporate influencer marketing.

Influencer marketing is progressively more popular among brands. According to Influencer Marketing Hub’s “Influencer Marketing 2019 Study,” 86% of brands intend to allocate budget to influencer marketing over the next year.

Creating long-term partnerships with influencers outside of a company’s four walls builds third-party credibility, among other benefits.

[N]ail down your content strategy – and stick to it.

Now’s the time to evaluate your content strategy and make refinements to reflect 2020 business objectives. Are there new content types to introduce? Does the publishing cadence need updating? Having a successful content strategy starts with a solid foundation. Answer these questions now to prevent roadblocks later.

[C]reate SEO-friendly content.

For your brand to thrive online, you need SEO-optimized content favoring Google’s algorithms and boosting search rankings.

Are you conducting keyword research to see what your audience is searching? Adding backlinks to older content? Mature plans by including an SEO strategy.

[H]ave a mobile-first mindset.

According to Facebook data, people are consuming content 41% more on mobile versus desktop. When brainstorming and producing content — whether it’s videos, landing pages or e-newsletters — create a user experience with mobile in mind.

Get in the 2020 spirit by being a G.R.I.N.C.H. You’ll find yourself on your brand’s nice list.


Thanks to our 2019 PRSA Holiday Party sponsors!

Disney+, Mr. Rogers and Black Friday – Great tactics, Powerful Messaging and a Few Tips

By: Ashley Jones

The arsenal of “Lizzie McGuire” and “That’s So Raven” episodes are at our fingertips, Tom Hanks is portraying a Pittsburgh legend and Black Friday sales are right around the corner. Easy to suffice it’s been a hell of a time for some great PR—let’s take a closer look:

Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

Disney+ & Netflix/Nickelodeon

Let’s be honest, Disney+ could’ve offered just their theatrical animated features and we would still have chomped at the bit. While these films are enough of lure in their own right, Disney used the data at their fingertips to effectively utilize the assets they already have.

“More than 80 percent of streamers are either Millennials (ages 18-34) or Gen X (35-54). That means that the two biggest demographics for Disney+ will be people who have children and those who grew up in the ‘90s and ‘00s.

That’s why, for its early days, Disney is emphasizing nostalgia. They’re bringing back classic Disney Channel originals like “Motocrossed” or “Brink!” while putting their next “Star Wars” story exclusively on the platform. And for the children of these generations, they’re including classic cartoons and Pixar movies.” – PRsay

Millennials feel strongly about the pinnacle of childhood television occurring in the 90s. Despite being a no-brainer, it was nothing short of genius for Disney to appeal to their core demo with the shows and movies their targeted audience grew up loving and haven’t gotten to indulge in for years. In fact, Nick at Night had already found similar success by airing beloved 90s cartoons and shows like “Kenan and Kel” and “All That” after a certain time on the channel. Speaking of Nickelodeon, anyone else hear about their team up with Netflix? Thoughts?

Artwork by ALICIA KACHMAR | Photograph by Jayna Janelle (JJ Crochet)

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”

How could one not be excited about America’s dad portraying America’s role model? “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” has stirred up excitement since its production was announced. The film stars Tom Hanks as the one and only Fred Rogers and was filmed quite literally in our neighborhood.

While the life and legacy of Mr. Rogers in one to be celebrated in its own right, the timeliness of this film’s debut shouldn’t be underestimated. The last few years have been tumultuous in terms of politics, crime and bias, from immigration laws and environmental issues to sex scandals and gun control. Right now, everyone could use a little bit of that genuine Fred Rogers magic to remind us we’re all human and all deserving of kindness and respect.

Yes, Pittsburgh is a sports town that bleeds black and gold. Yeah, you can’t commute anywhere without crossing at least one bridge. So we might say “yinz” and pretend it’s just as grammatically sound as “ya’ll.” And, yes, we revolutionized the culinary industry by putting fries on our sandwiches and salads. But, maybe it’s time for Pittsburgh to be known for something bigger, especially while the nation’s eyes are on us through the lens of Mr. Rogers. Perhaps this is Pittsburgh’s moment to lead by example and demonstrate what being neighborly truly means.

Black Friday

Next week is already Thanksgiving which means Black Friday is right around the corner. It’s the ultimate weekend for procrastinators to catch up on holiday shopping without the usual harsh reality of a one-day shopping spree.

So, should your brand partake? If so, how do you make sure you’re not just another company shouting percentages at potential consumers?

First, be realistic and commit. If you’re going to offer Black Friday incentives make sure they’re worthwhile and beneficial to both you and your target audience.

This article from Square offered a few great ideas to help your brand’s Black Friday marketing cut through the clutter. If your company is a small locally-owned business, we liked these tips in particular:

  • Find your hook
    • Limited-edition, local or handmade items customers can only get at your store? Promote those!
  • Team up with other small businesses
    • Remember that discussion about Mr. Rogers earlier? This is a great time to collaborate with fellow local businesses to incentivize and attract shoppers.
  • Make it a party
    • Decorate, put on a killer playlist, offer drinks and snacks. Make your business a place shoppers simply can’t pass by and want to spend time in. Don’t be afraid to go that extra mile. For example, if you own a fashion boutique, put on a mini fashion show to demonstrate your newest line of clothing.
  • Bundle products together
    • Now is the time to promote your products as much as possible. Offer discounts and deals for the purchase of multiple related items. If you own a book shop, offer an incentive for purchasing a book, a writing accessory, and a candle together.
  • Stay open late
    • Black Fridays are busy. There are tons of places shoppers want to try to hit in one day. Give them a little extra leeway, plus appeal to the customers who don’t enjoy the madness of Black Friday mornings by staying open for a few extra hours.
  • Go the extra mile
    • Wrap those purchases up or give a free little gift. Offering something as simple as a free holiday cookie with your logo on it is a great way to show your thanks and get in a little extra brand marketing.


Thanks to our 2019 PRSA Holiday Party sponsors!

From Resume Mishaps to Public Slanders, We Failed Forward at PR Summit

PR Summit: Failing Forward

You can’t appreciate the ups without the downs, the A+ without the F-, the success without the initial failure. We’re human – we make mistakes. Whether you’re a student or the CEO of a company, you’ve made them. What matters is how you channel that momentary defeat into an opportunity to learn, grow and fuel your redemption.

On October 1, we gathered at the Ace Hotel, the perfect raw space, to have a candid, open and honest discussion about the fumbles, mistakes and embarrassing moments of our careers. But the discussion didn’t end there, it led to the subsequent skills, capabilities and confidence we’ve garnered as a result. As we all know, no career path is linear or perfect.

Give a Round of Applause to Our Speakers! 👏

But let’s face it, failing isn’t necessarily fun even if it provides a platform for growth. Failing can be an obscure journey to find the buried treasure. We appreciate our speakers and panelists for accepting the challenge to share their screw-ups with a room full of strangers:

  • Jason Clark, Actor, Comedian, General Manager, Arcade Comedy Theater
  • Dr. John Hull, Professor of Psychology, Bethany College
  • Dan Sprumont, Lead Digital Experience Owner, Highmark Health
  • Lily Whorl, Fellow, Red Havas
  • Stacey Federoff, Communicator and Public Relations Graduate Student, Point Park University
  • Hollie Geitner, Vice President, Culture & Brand Ambassador, WordWrite

Tweet Ya Later

Here’s what some of our attendees had to say about their experience at PR Summit:






Always Fail Forward

For anyone who missed PR Summit: Failing Forward, check out some of the takeaways brought to us by Dr. John Hull:

  • Recognize that failure is an expected part of life; we all fail.
  • We need to separate failing at doing something from feeling like a failure when things don’t go well.
  • Fear of failure is not all bad – it may, in fact, help us improve our planning, thereby reducing the chances of failing.
  • We really can’t do just anything we set our mind on. To think this is to predispose ourselves to failure – and maybe even learned helplessness.
  • Anticipate the optimism/pessimism cycles inherent in working on long-term projects. Early overoptimism can lead to unnecessary failure.
  • Recognize that the way you do something isn’t necessarily the best way for everyone to do it. Your method may succeed for you, but not necessarily for others.
  • Remember self-efficacy and self-image, and how self-protective we are. We need to recognize that, even though we all think we are above average on most things,  sometimes we are, in fact, responsible for failure.
  • Organizational climate matters. A more collaborative (collectivist) climate is generally more supportive than a competitive (individualistic) climate, and can lessen personalizing failure.
  • Let some time pass before confronting failure. Most of us are more likely to be objective rather than self-protective if we wait a bit; in the long run, that will help.
  • Avoid self-handicapping. Give it your best shot – but understand that sometimes even your best shot won’t be good enough.

Thanks again to our 2019 PR Summit sponsor!

Researchscape International is an agile survey-research consultancy and SaaS firm delivering PR surveys, omnibus surveys, automated reporting tools and other research-related services to marketers and agencies. Its surveys are frequently used to drive thought leadership, support content creation and help grow organizations’ public profiles. Custom surveys support product launches, crisis communications, customer satisfaction and more.

You Are Not Alone – PRSA Pittsburgh Stands by Those with Mental Illness

Ending the Stigma

Diabetes. Cancer. Alzheimer’s. They’re noble causes that hundreds of thousands of individuals across the nation come together to raise funds and awareness for.

Depression. Suicide. Anxiety. They’re causes just as noble, though are so often stigmatized.

But mental illness isn’t just having a bad day. It’s not just feeling a little bummed every now and then. It’s not just a simple switch able to be turned off.

Mental illness is life-changing. It’s unpredictable. It often requires both psychological and medical treatment, in addition to conscious self-care management. It’s very, very real.

In fact, according to

  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
  • 1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34

Despite these numbers, less than half of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2018.

It begs the question: why are individuals not receiving treatment? Is it healthcare or cost-related? Or is the stigma against mental illness so powerful it prevents individuals from seeking necessary treatment for fear of tarnishing their personal reputation or even job security?

We want to see change. That’s why PRSA Pittsburgh has partnered with NAMI Keystone this past year to offer communications outreach on behalf of their “CEOs Against Stigma” campaign.

NAMIWalks Keystone Pennsylvania

And now you can help, too. Join us at the NAMIWalks Keystone Pennsylvania on Sunday, October 6 at the Monroeville Community Park West.

Or, if you can’t make it on Sunday, consider making a donation to our team here.

All funds raised directly support the mission of NAMI to provide support, education, and advocacy to individuals and families right here in our community.

Mental Illness Awareness Week

NAMIWalks Keystone Pennsylvania kicks off this year’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 6-12. Mental illness affects everyone directly or indirectly through family, friends or coworkers. Throughout the week, take the time to educate yourself and those around you about the facts surrounding mental illness.

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

Cigarettes, Juul and the Quest for Success: When Targeting Your Audience Goes Wrong

By Ashley Jones

The advertiser’s dream: audience targeting. It’s what Facebook, Google and, in 2019, pretty much every digital platform in-between has gifted us. With a few clicks of a mouse, we can target our campaigns with hyper-precision: gender, age, demographic, geographic location. Even specific interests of those best suited to receive our ads. It’s cost-effective, and it increases the conversions we need to achieve our campaign goals.

But we don’t just target digitally — we target through our creative strategies as well. We target our ideal demographic through our creative assets in terms of our choice of colors, the age, and ethnicity of models or influencers, the copy, the media placement. The list goes on.

But targeting an audience is only half the battle of campaign success. The true heartbeat of any campaign is, and always will be authenticity. You can meet or exceed every objective of your campaign strategy, but if your messaging is misguided, fictitious or deceitful, your credibility and reputation can be tarnished. Negative backlash can connote your overall brand, sales can drop, and, in more extreme cases, legal action can be taken.

More importantly, the well-being of your audience can be at stake.

The Juul Example

Recently, Bloomberg published an article regarding the infamous Juul and a lawsuit taken against Juul Labs Inc. and Philip Morris USA Inc. for “illegally marketing nicotine-delivery devices to minors and deceiving consumers about the risks of vaping.”

Not long after, The New York Times published a piece about the FDA’s warning letter to Juul for the illegal marketing of their product as “safer than traditional tobacco cigarettes.”

If you haven’t heard of the Juul, no doubt you’ve seen the sleek USB-looking e-cig in the hand of a college-age kid, or the vapor clouds at bus stops, on the street, even in the grocery store. It’s the latest “alternative” to cigarettes. And it’s gained momentum, fast. Particularly, among Gen Z – many of whom are kids not old enough to even legally purchase. Paradoxical; considering the Juul’s “goal” is to “improve the lives of existing adult smokers.”

Remember That Scene in Mad Men?

But it’s no secret that the tobacco and nicotine industries have a convoluted advertising history.

In 1937, Camel ran an advertising campaign supporting the idea that their cigarettes “aided digestion.”

In 1949, Viceroys cigarettes deployed an advertising campaign that claimed your dentist thinks “smoking isn’t all that bad for you.”

In 1951, L&M claimed their filters were “just what the doctors ordered.”

These are just a few examples of the vintage advertising campaigns that claimed cigarettes could achieve great feats — like helping you keep a slender figure, curb your candy cravings and cure a common cold. With a quick Google search, you can find countless slogans, billboards, and advertorials perpetuating the health benefits of cigarettes — unsupported by facts.

But there’s no denying these ads were, well, really successful. Although they didn’t have digital targeting at their fingertips, thanks to the introduction of color print, tobacco companies were able to create campaigns and cartons that were aesthetically pleasing to target mothers, athletes, and young adults. They constructed a trendy lifestyle, even fashionable – if you didn’t smoke a square, you were a square. They included beautiful women and handsome men. Their slogans purported health benefits, self-image improvement and normalized the act of smoking.

As suspicions began to arise about the real health risks of smoking and its link to cancer and other diseases in the ‘50s, the ads began to reassure consumers by featuring doctors, dentists as well as popular actors and athletes, like Ronald Reagan and Willie Mays who swore by cigarettes, thus appealing to consumers’ trust. And consumers were dedicated to their particular brand of smokes.

By 1953, 47% of American adults were smoking cigarettes.

After the U.S. Surgeon General’s first Smoking and Health report were published in 1964, there was a steep decline in the smoking rate of adults.

Not a Solution, but a Replacement 

Despite the radical decline of smoking in recent years, “vaping” has found its place. But not with the community of adult smokers who have been addicted to nicotine for years, or those seeking to kick the habit to try to combat the long-term health tolls their bodies have taken. Since the Juul’s inception in 2015, vaping among 12th-graders increased from 16.3% to 26.7%.

For a company dedicated to curbing the already-existing habit of adult smokers, Juul’s targeting didn’t quite seem to align. Their initial ads were bright and colorful and depicted attractive 20-somethings enjoying the pleasures of life while vaping. These ads were scattered along with metro areas and highways, in addition to social media platforms with trending hashtags. The company also tapped dominantly millennial and Gen Z demographics social influencers for blogs and Instagram posts. And the campaign performance has been incredibly successful: teen exposure to these ads is every seven in 10. As a result, 27.5% of high school students and over five million youth are current e-cigarette users.

Juul didn’t appeal to the middle-aged parents trying to quit for the sake of their children or elderly smokers diagnosed with smoking-related diseases looking to finally put the habit to rest. In fact, they’ve done just the opposite. They’ve placed addictive nicotine products in the hands of people who have never touched a cigarette. Instead of educational campaigns that expressed the dangers of smoking and how the Juul could help wean cigarette use, their campaigns repeated the tobacco industry’s past of glamorization.

Thanks to recent backlash, Juul has pulled many of its original ads and replaced them with commercials that explore existing smokers’ experience with “making the switch.” However, this has done little to curb the radical increase of vaping, according to The New York Times.

Considering traditional smoking’s negative stigma, and compared to the harsh smell of tobacco, it’s understandable how it may be hard for younger users to believe that the mango smelling nicotine within their dainty, decorated little devices could have the same health repercussions as cigarettes. And true, scientists are still learning about long-term health effects. But, will it be too late?

After all, there are now hundreds of cases of curious vaping-related diseases. And the toll for vaping-related deaths has risen to seven. While none of these can be linked to one specific source, it’s enough to heighten concern and scrutiny.

Learn from the Past, Old Sport

As communicators and advertisers, we hold great power and responsibility can be heavy. We influence the world down highways, on television and phone screens. We shape how individuals feel about a company and its products, what individuals purchase and what individuals believe.

As our capabilities continue to advance, we must be as transparent and genuine as possible as we approach our campaigning and the way the world perceives the messaging we share. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. It’s a dangerous game we play – don’t cheat.

In the Spirit of Failing – Practice Interviewing Like It’s an Instrument

By: Ashley Jones

My Dad, The Drummer

My dad is a dedicated drummer. Anytime you look at him he’s tapping away to the beat of a song in his head or following along to a song he has blasting on full volume. After a couple of introductory lessons to learn the basics when he was 12 years old, he taught himself the rest (and this was pre-YouTube tutorials, mind you).

When I was 11 years old, my dad tried to teach me to play. He held my hands as I held the drumsticks to demonstrate some rudimentary drum rolls – easy as pie, a piece of cake. The second he let go, the bakery was on fire. I couldn’t hold a beat with two limbs, let alone four.

I gave up so easily. Despite knowing practice and studying were necessary, I still maintained that desire for inherent aptitude and instantaneous perfection.

Pfft, Interviewing is EASY

When it came time to interview for my first big kid job, an administrative coordinator position at ARTnews in New York City, I thought I had it in the bag. I studied education – if I could command the attention of a room full of angsty teens to explain classic literary works, surely, I could hold a conversation and answer the questions of one professional. I did a couple of hours of research on the magazine the night before, checked out a few common interview questions and made sure I got to bed early. Enough effort to ace an interview, right? Wrong. So wrong.

I couldn’t give a coherent explanation for switching career paths. I couldn’t remember the current editor’s name or the year the magazine was first issued. I couldn’t give examples of what was happening in the modern art world or what some of my favorite art publications were. When the interviewer asked me if I had any questions for her near the end, I squeaked out a very unsure, “no.” I was never so embarrassed in my life.

I don’t think I have to tell you I didn’t get the job. I didn’t even get the courtesy let-down email. Rightfully so. I made it clear that I didn’t take the opportunity seriously enough to pass even the most routine aspects of the interview. I never wanted to feel that way again.

Just Kidding, Interviewing Takes Work

For my next interview, I was full-on determined for redemption and success. I spent at least a full week in preparation –

  • I didn’t just peruse the website, I studied it. I made sure to know the company’s CEO, mission, values, clients, and industry.
  • I went on Glassdoor to try to get an idea of the interview process and questions individuals had been asked before.
  • I researched general interview questions and interview questions specific to the position I was interviewing for. I wrote down my answers and took up at least seven pages of notebook paper front and back. And then I studied that.
  • Then, I had a friend ask me those questions and I answered them verbally without reading the answers I had previously written down.
  • I researched the best kind of questions to ask after an interview and made a list of roughly 12 questions to ask, just in case some of the ones I initially planned to ask were naturally answered throughout the interview.
  • Finally, I put together a portfolio binder complete with my transcripts, letters of recommendation, resume and tons of work samples to reference and present.

Embrace Embarrassment

After a phone interview and two rounds of in-person interviewing, I nailed my first professional job at ProExam in New York as an editor. In each interview, I felt confident and prepared, almost a step ahead of my interviewer. I was able to anticipate their questions; I was able to provide real-world examples, and I was able to genuinely demonstrate my interest in the company and the opportunity before me.

I’ve used the interviewing practices previously mentioned to great success, landing three of four career opportunities stemming from interviews since my job in NYC.

But if it weren’t for bombing that first interview, I wouldn’t have learned how to prepare properly. Sometimes it takes embracing embarrassing situations and failures to challenge you to do and be better.

It reminds me of my dad and his drums: repetition, patience, dedication, and passion. You might drop the drumsticks now and then, but picking them back up is what matters. That’s what it takes to succeed.

Join us at the 2019 PR Summit: Failing Forward

Join PRSA Pittsburgh at the Ace Hotel on October 1 from 5:30PM to 9:00PM for an evening of networking, learning, and failing forward. For one night, we’re ignoring those award-winning ideas, and we’re going to instead talk about the presentations we bombed, the campaigns we created that met exactly 0 of our KPIs, and the jobs we lost.

Get tickets here!

Our Flaws Are Our Strengths

Originally Published on Public Relations Strategery| By: Steve Radick


I get distracted easily. I don’t call my mom nearly often enough. I’m sometimes, ok, oftentimes, arrogant. I have constant anxiety over the fact that I give presentations talking about how success isn’t measured using impressions and likes, yet I find myself building client reports that do exactly that. I’ve sent emails complaining about how bad my client is…to my client. I have no idea how to use power tools.

The list of my mistakes and flaws could go on and on. Just ask my wife. So could yours. So could everybody’s…if people were willing to talk about them.

But no one wants to talk about their flaws, mistakes, screw-ups and failures. They’re embarrassing. They’re uncomfortable. They’re awkward. They make us seem weak and inadequate.

That’s why we use technology to hide every flaw, cover up every defect, and filter every word. Every text, email, post, and Snap is concepted, staged, shot, and shared to emphasize our strengths and optimize our brands.

We can present the absolute best version of ourselves all the time. And that’s the problem.

Our flaws are our greatest strengths and we’re not only not using them, we’re actively hiding them.

Don’t believe me?

  • Think about the waiter that tells you not to order the fish because it’s not fresh.
  • The car salesman who tells you the car you’re considering has a lot of reliability issues.
  • Or the politician who goes on Saturday Night Live and lets the cast poke fun at him.

Now think about your reaction to those situations.

  • You don’t order the fish, but you do order the pasta the waiter recommended.
  • You believe the salesman when she directs you to another car she says is much more reliable.
  • You start to think that politician isn’t such a bad guy – you might even say you’d have a beer with him.

These reactions are driven by science. The Pratfall Effect states that people viewed as highly competent are deemed to be more likable following a blunder. And as Robert Cialdini explains in his book “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade” – when you admit your flaws, people are more receptive to what you say or do next. And several recent studies have demonstrated that while we over-magnify our own flaws, we minimize flaws we see in others.

It’s why we still embrace celebrities like Charles Barkley or Britney Spears. It’s not despite their scandals and mistakes. It’s because of them. It’s why celebrities read mean tweets about themselves on Jimmy Kimmel. It’s why shows like Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition and Dancing with the Stars exist. It’s why Dove’s Real Beauty campaign has won every award. It’s why Eminem won the final rap battle against Papa Doc.

Psychologically speaking, it’s our own insecurities that prevent us from using some of our greatest assets in building and maintaining relationships. We underestimate the power of authenticity, flaws and all. Our flawed reality, no matter how difficult it is to talk about, creates a stronger, more sustainable brand than a perfectly manicured one.

That’s why flaws are the basis for PRSA Pittsburgh’s annual PR Summit – “Failing Forward.” We’ve all bombed job interviews, flubbed presentations, sent emails to the wrong person, and shared unflattering pictures of ourselves. Instead of hiding from those things, let’s celebrate them. Let’s turn our flaws into our strengths.